Who has your back when you fall?

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80,”

This is what the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development Robert Waldinger concluded after looking at over 80 years of data.

STRONG POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE KEY

Waldinger who is also a psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He also had a very enlightening TEDx talk (What Makes A Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness) in 2015 that generated over 43 million views. In it he said the clearest message they got from this study is, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” More than money and fame, which is what we so often strive for when we just start out in life.

Waldinger found out that those who lived longer in better health also tended to be those who didn’t smoke or drink in excess. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is famous for saying that you are the average of your five closest friends. Although, some people say it goes much further to include your society and surroundings, it still behooves us to find those who support us, who make us better people and who encourage us to engage in healthy behaviors or at least not bring our efforts down.

STUDY DESIGN

They found this out because for over 80 years, the original researchers of the study, and eventually Waldinger himself tracked the lives of 724 men (and eventually women), year after year, asking them about their work, their home lives and their health. They also got deeper and looked at their medical records, drew their blood, scanned their brains and and videotaped them speaking to their families

After the participants reached their 80s, they went back to look at their data from midlife to see if they could predict who was going to be happiest and healthiest in older age. What they found was astonishing. It wasn’t their cholesterol levels or their income levels that predicted how they would age. It was those people who were most satisfied in their relationships in their 50s who were thriving in their 80s.

LONELINESS

There are still many other incredible lessons that were learned in one of the largest longitudinal studies on adult life. One is that loneliness kills. If you listened to my podcast interview with Cathleen Toomey of the Seniority Authority podcast, you already learned that the experience of loneliness is toxic and those who are chronically without human connections and feel more isolated and lonely than they care for, actually experience cognitive decline sooner and live shorter lives than those who don’t feel lonely.

The famous study by Holt-Linstad in 2010 compared the physical health impact of loneliness to similar as smoking. Furthermore, a study by the Ad Council revealed that nearly one in five people globally experience consistent loneliness. So, there is something to be said about nurturing your network.

TEND TO YOUR SOCIAL CIRCLES

There is no doubt that taking care of your body is important, but nurturing your relationships whether it’s meeting up with a friend every Saturday for that morning walk on the beach or spending an extra minute or two talking to your dry cleaner (or just a meaningful “How are you doing?” if there’s a line), can really enhance not only our experience in this journey of life, but also may just help you live longer, better.